Pyre is a huge departure from developer Supergiant Games' previous two creations. While Bastion and Transistor had similar playstyles, Pyre feels more like The Oregon Trail mixed with Rocket League. I spoke with creative director Greg Kasavin at PAX East about why they decided to go such a different route for their third game, and you can watch the video above to see what he had to say.
In Pyre, you control a wagon of outcasts trying to escape the purgatory-like world they are trapped in. To do so, they have to compete in a series of "Rites" against other wanderers also trying to escape. You guide your party from ritual to ritual, making branching decisions about how to get there along the way, while the actual competition plays out like a 3v3 sport where you have to dunk a ball in your opponent's pyre (basically a goal) a certain number of times before they can manage the same.
Somehow Supergiant has made a game even more beautiful than its previous two. But Pyre's radically different gameplay wasn't so much of a clear-cut improvement. While the Rites are fun, they aren't nearly as snappy or satisfying as Bastion's hack-and-slash combat. You can temporarily kill members of the opposing team with the aura around each of your characters, which disappears from whichever player has the ball, so it's primarily a game of avoiding your opponent's auras while weaving your way toward their goal. It's a cool concept, but one that will rely on level and enemy variety to keep it interesting.
The more compelling part of Pyre was its story premise. Kasavin described Pyre as a "fantasy road trip," set in a world steeped in lore it chooses to reveal slowly. Travelling to each new Rite is broken up into days, and you can have optional conversations with the characters in your party when you make camp each night. These conversations revealed details about the world little by little, but they also had an impact on my character's stats. One member of my party, a wolf creature named Rukey, asked me if I liked his moustache. When I said he'd look better without it, he quickly shaved, permanently altering the look of his avatar and giving him a bonus to his Hope stat.
Characters can change and level up as the game goes on, and although I only had access to three in the demo, Kasavin explained that they want Pyre to feel like a party-based RPG. I imagine the Rites will begin to feel deeper as I gain more control over customizing my characters and deciding who to use. But in my short time with it, I was much more interested in learning about the world than playing with a ball. Although I enjoyed it immensely, the demo ended up leaving me unsure about Pyre, but excited to see more.